LA-bred noise band HEALTH first gained notoriety in 2007 when they collaborated with Crystal Castles to produce a remix of their single “Crimewave,” which ultimately ended up on Crystal Castles’ breakout 2008 self-titled album. They developed their sound at famed underground LA venue The Smell, performing and producing music in a scene that included other loud, innovative bands like No Age and Ex Model. Their sound is angular and artfully crafted – raw synth, pounding drums, vocals that almost recall a Gregorian chant.
New album DEATH MAGIC is their first studio record since 2009. In the past few years, they’ve toured with Nine Inch Nails and produced the soundtrack for video game Max Payne. This latest record is polished and heavy — the logical next step in this band’s creative trajectory. DEATH MAGIC pummels you in the way you crave in a HEALTH record, but offers an almost unexpected pop sensibility that makes it more easily digestible. The difference is compelling: vulnerable lyrics in tracks like “L.A. Looks” (“It’s not love, but I still want you”) live alongside moments of deafening synthetic fury. Pitchfork summed it up best in their review of the record: “Without the occasional beam of light, it’s hard to appreciate how dark – or how good – a band like HEALTH can actually be.”
With our (le) Poisson Rouge show on Sunday, frontman Jacob Duzsik answered a few questions for us.
Give us a snapshot of the LA underground music scene. How is it different than Brooklyn? The same? What was your favorite show at The Smell?
If I am being honest I don’t really know much about the underground music scene in Brooklyn, so it would be difficult to compare the two. I travel so much that if I’m in New York and I have any down time I try to spend it with friends. The LA underground now seems to center much more around warehouse parties. A lot of the dudes who were in noise bands in the mid 2000’s DJ house and techno. As for a favorite show at The Smell, we saw so many epic bills there. But for my party I remember seeing the chicago band Coughs play one of the greatest shows i’ve ever seen. It was terrifying.
How is The Smell (and the scene around it) today as compared to yesterday? As we know DIY venues tend to have an expiration date because of landlords, property costs, what have you – how do you think this has survived? How is it different now that it’s so well-known?
The scene has unquestionably changed dramatically since we cut our teeth at The Smell, but movements in music are always fickle. I think The Smell has enjoyed such longevity because it is simply extremely well run. People take it seriously and have their shit together, you can’t drink etc. I don’t find myself there every often as I’m more likely to be home watching the fuckin’ cooking network with my girlfriend or hanging out somewhere I can drink. Total old guy style.
I read an interview from 2009 where you said “We encouraged the remixers to not respect the integrity of the songs” because you wanted them all to sound very different from the originals. That Crystal Castles remix made it on to Gossip Girl’s soundtrack. How did reaching that mainstream of a mainstream audience feel? When did you realize that you’d gotten bigger than the LA underground scene?
I guess once we started selling out DIY venues we knew we might have jumped up in weight class. As far as that remix goes it was strange to hear it everywhere, but that was their song. Felt like we were just kinda along for the ride. It didn’t get me laid or anything…at least not that I’m aware of.
What was it like producing a video game soundtrack? How was it different than producing a more typical album?
It’s a totally different experience. It’s highly collaborative. Your job is to help make the whole experience for the gamer more enjoyable. It’s a lot of work but in certain ways it’s less stressful than making your own record.
DEATH MAGIC is noticeably more refined than your earlier music. Most notably in how audible the lyrics are, and just in general how melodic it is. Was that your intention when you set out to make the record? Did you have an intention at all?
We intended to make a good record. So all those elements of its sound felt like a natural progression to us.
You toured with Nine Inch Nails, which was an obvious choice. You also revealed in a recent Pitchfork article that you vibe with Rihanna and Katy Perry. Tell us what not-so-obvious artist you’d like to tour with.
Dude, Tay Sway.
Please tell us it isn’t going to be six more years before you drop your next record. Any plans?
Fuck no. We are gonna start writing as soon as we wrap up this tour.